Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir


Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, it’s most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.


So, I brought An Ember in the Ashes a few years ago because I had heard nothing but great things about it. For some reason I kept putting it off and eventually it fell to the bottom of my Kindle library and I forgot about it entirely. Until a couple of weeks ago when it popped up on Twitter and I decided it was finally time to give it a go. Unfortunately, my experience with it wasn’t as positive as I though. But it also wasn’t negative either, I didn’t feel much of anything if I’m being completely honest. 

I was expecting an amazing romance plot that would make me weak in the knees – this expectation based on what I’ve seen other people saying. Instead I was left with the feeling of a missing spark and no romantic interest whatsoever. 

It’s obvious from the get-go that you’re supposed to want Laia and Elias to get together. I did believe in it at first, but most of their interactions felt forced and lacklustre to me. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right type of mood for it, but I just didn’t care about whether or not they had romantic feelings for each other. There is one scene where they actually kiss and that did make me feel a little excited, but that’s possibly because it was the only ‘romantic’ scene in the whole book. 

I think for me the romantic side of An Ember in the Ashes was ruined by the constant mention of sexual assult. This theme was very heavy throughout the entire book and it got a bit much, especially how casually the characters talk about doing it and how there is no consequence to it. 

The world in itself was very interesting, but I didn’t realise it was inspired by ancient Rome until now. I did not get this vibe at all, maybe I didn’t pay full attention to the world building but I don’t remember any details that hint at this. 

One thing I am left wondering, which may have been explained and I missed it, was why do they wear these merge-with-your-face silver masks? I kind of get why you’d wear a mask if you were like an assassin for the empire or something, but why does it have to become a permanent part of your face? Maybe it’s explained in the next book, which I do have. 

I really enjoyed the trials as love those types of plots, they were probably the best parts of the whole book. But the rest was boring. Sorry, I know a lot of people really love this series, but it was a chore to get through. I’m not going to be a complete savage with my rating as I do think this has potential, hopefully, the story picks up in the next book.

I may attempt the next book at some point as I do already own it, but as of right now I don’t want to go anywhere near it.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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